In August 2019, Papua New Guinea’s immigration department moved dozens of men, who had been held on Manus Island and deemed not to be refugees, to a Port Moresby facility, the Bomana Immigration Centre.

Q1 What is the Bomana Immigration Centre (BIC)?

The Bomana Immigrations Centre is a ‘transit and removals’ facility on the outskirts of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea (PNG). It was built by the Australian Department of Home Affairs (Department) as part of the Regional Resettlement Arrangement, a 2013 bilateral agreement between the two countries supporting the continuation of offshore processing of asylum seekers in PNG. In 2014, when the funding of the BIC was first announced, PNG’s Correctional Services spokesman Richard Mandui told the media that the facility was ‘being built purposely for those asylum seekers detained on Manus’. 

The centre opened on 2 April 2019, and according to the Department (p. 88), its purpose is ‘removals from the PNG jurisdiction in support of the operations of the PNG Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority’. When asked whether the PNG government intended to use the facility to detain people with negative refugee status determinations who did not accept voluntary deportation, the Department said: ‘The operation of the facility is a matter for the PNG government.’ 

Q2 How much did the BIC cost Australia?

At the 2016-2017 Senate Estimates hearings (p. 89), the Department said that it would be building the facility but not running it or paying for ongoing maintenance. However, the Department’s contract with Northbuild Holdings in PNG states it is for ‘building construction and support and maintenance and repair services’ for the facility. This contract was valued at $24 million as at 20 August 2019. 

Q3 How many people are being detained at the BIC?

In October 2016, the Department told Senate Estimates (p.115) that there were plans to build a fenced facility with 25 rooms that could house up to 50 people, two in each room. In August 2019, at a Senate hearing on the Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019 (Medevac hearing), Senator Nick McKim said there were 53 people detained at the BIC (p. 14). Responding to an April 2019 Estimates question about how many people were currently detained at the BIC, the Department stated: ‘All operations related to the Bomana Immigration Centre, including its population, is a matter for the Papua New Guinea Government.’ 

Q4 Is the BIC a prison?

The Department has claimed (p. 114) that the BIC is not part of the nearby Bomana Prison. Instead, it is located approximately 1.85 kilometres from the Bomana Prison and 1.12 kilometres from the Bomana Police Training College, which receives significant support from the Australian Federal Police as part of the Papua New Guinea-Australia Policing Partnership

However, the BIC is reported to be a secure environment and have prison-like qualities. In 2016, Department officials said (p. 114) the BIC would have an external 3.6 metre-high anti-climb fence with ‘a barrel roll on the top’ and, within the facility itself, a three-metre-high, anti-climb fence. The Chief Migration Officer of PNG stated, in a 29 August 2019 media release, that the BIC is a ‘stand alone, purpose-built facility and is in no way an annex of any other facility’.

Personal mobile devices, including telephones, are not permitted in the BIC. In 2019, media outlets published images of a letter asylum seekers were given from the PNG Immigration and Citizenship Authority before their transfer to the BIC that said, ‘You must surrender your mobile phone, medication …. You will not leave your room. Your meals and drinks will be provided to you in your room. If you are on medication, we will administer this to you.’

Asylum seekers have in the past been held in Bomana Prison to ensure their return to Manus Island following medical treatment in Port Moresby, according to a 2018 report published by Overseas Services to Survivors of Torture and Trauma (p. 9). Two Pakistani asylum seekers were reportedly held without charge in Bomana Prison for eight months in 2018 after their claim for asylum was denied (p. 25).

Q5 What is happening at the BIC?

At a Senate hearing in August 2019, the lawyer for several detainees at the BIC, David Manne of Refugee Legal, said that he was unable to contact his clients (p. 38); doctors in Australia said they were likewise unable to communicate with those held there (p. 14). The majority of the detainees at the BIC at the time of the hearing had engaged with the medevac process, including one who had been approved for transfer and two or three who had been approved after they had been detained (p. 14). The Department said that it had requested that these detainees be transferred to Australia, but the PNG authorities had refused to approve the transfer because they were able to receive medical treatment in PNG (p. 72).

Researched and compiled by Elizabeth Wright.

Image courtesy of ABC News: Eric Tlozek